Soft skills are a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills. The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense , the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.” (Source: Wikipedia)
If you’ve heard a lot about “soft skills” lately, it’s at least partly because employers want you to develop them. According to Global Recruiting Trends study at LinkedIn, more employers are rolling out “soft skills assessments” to test job candidates on the cognitive and personality qualities you don’t go to school to learn: critical thinking, adaptability, learning agility, communication, etc. By all indications, these factors are trading at a higher value in 2017 than they have in the past.
But since they seem to be in high demand and comparatively short supply, companies are investing in new technologies meant to zoom in on the right folks faster. Here’s what it takes to earn high marks in the job market for your soft skills, whether you face one of those new assessment tools or a flesh-and-blood hiring manager on a job interview.
While some employers still use traditional interview questions to assess soft skills, others are turning to predictive hiring software. Berke, for instance, is a hiring tool that evaluates job applications according to a position’s job description and tries to determine which personality traits would boost their performance in the role. Another tool, Koru, looks at companies’ current teams and aims to gauge the soft-skills makeup of their star players.
The companies that are already experimenting with this kind of tech aren’t doing so behind closed doors—they want candidates to know about it, and prep accordingly. Many of these platforms and programs post tips and advice to their websites to help job seekers get a better idea of how to succeed. Koru outlines seven key traits it’s built to look for in most new hires. The first one is “grit, the ability to stick with it when things get hard.”
So to prepare, don’t hesitate to ask an HR contact inside the company whether they’re using any predictive tools to help them evaluate job candidates. If you learn that they are, do a little research on the technology you may have to face, so you can show yourself off in the best light.
If you handle change well, companies are likely to prefer you to someone who has a PhD or 10 years of experience but isn’t as adaptable.
Have you been on board during a time when your company switched from a hardware model to a software model? From a product to a service? How did you respond? Maybe you transitioned off a team led by your favorite manager and joined an unfamiliar group. What was that like? You should plan to come to each interview armed with anecdotes about how you reacted to a major change, how you came to make a big decision, and how your coworkers might describe your team interactions.
At LinkedIn, people who are the best at their craft have been interviewed, but if they lack the adaptability to work through change, they don’t hire them. There’s no debate.
As more companies recognize the importance of soft skills, they’re becoming more interested in figuring out how candidates will respond to certain scenarios. That means your job interviews over the next few years may hold more surprises than they used to. A company might even stage a miniature crisis in order to observe how candidates respond in the moment. Short of that, employers are already retooling their go-to set of interview questions in order to shift toward soft skills.
This means candidates need to rethink how they prepare for interviews. Canned answers may work even worse than they did in the past—it’s all about rolling with the punches. For now, check out the most common interview questions employers are using these days to tease out soft skills, and start working on your answers.
Be honest with yourself: What would happen if you went into work tomorrow and your manager said, “We’re shutting down XYZ project and we don’t know what’s next”? This happens all the time.
Finding yourself in a situation like this can take a toll on your health and happiness—that is, if you aren’t comfortable adapting to unforeseen changes. On the other hand, if you’re someone with what recruiters think of as high “change agility,” make sure to find a place on the bleeding edge of it. At all events, just be honest with yourself.
If adapting quickly to upheavals is hard for you, that’s okay too, as long as you’re aware of it and don’t try to become someone you’re not (interviewers—and their growing set of tech tools—will be able to tell). Chances are you have other soft skills employers are looking for; double down on those and look for roles that are more suited to your abilities.
Employers still want to hear about your achievements, of course, but you’ll also need to be ready to share experiences that demonstrate how you’ve been able to adapt, persevere, and manage change. That’s the kind of candidate companies will be looking to hire in the months and years ahead.